Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate And Billie Holiday Fan

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka of Nigeria was recently awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement prize from the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards. For Tell Me More's 'In Your Ear' series, Soyinka shares the music that inspires him.

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We'd like to end today with the occasional series we call In Your Ear. That's where some of our guests tell us about the songs they listen to for a little inspiration. Today we hear from Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. He recently received yet another honor, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award's Lifetime Achievement Prize. This unique prize is given to writers who broaden our vision of race and diversity. When we spoke to Wole Soyinka last year, he also shared his favorite music with us.


WOLE SOYINKA: In my ear is a composition by a young Nigerian musician, Wole Alade. The title is "Olodumare," that's the entire recording. My favorite there is "Isel'Ofin."


SOYINKA: All I remember is that I was struck very forcibly when I first heard this song. And a major reason is that it takes its inspiration from the Yoruba religion, from my part of the world, the Orisha. And this was the first sustained composition I listened to which takes its rhythms from Yoruba rhythms of the divine kind. The polyrhythm is absolutely stunning. And in fact I know I won't be satisfied until I've actually collaborated with him in producing it on stage, especially in Nigeria.


SOYINKA: Then there is Mikis Theodorakis. The fascination of this for me has both a serious and a comic side. I remember his composition - and this is one of my favorites - "Zorba's Entrance."


SOYINKA: I first heard it in the film "Zorba the Greek" with Anthony Quinn, that great actor.


SOYINKA: And this is the comic part. In that film he was a rotten dancer. He was trying to do some Greek dancing and I thought it was one of the most comic things I ever saw. So each time I envision Anthony Quinn dancing, and a smile comes to my face.


BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.

SOYINKA: Probably to me the greatest singer, female voice, is Billie Holiday. And one of the most moving for me, I don't know why - maybe it's nostalgia, maybe because my life is one of constant partying, whatever. I love listening to her, "I'll Be Seeing You." Very moving, very elegiac. For me Billie Holiday has this lyrical quality, it's very touching and very fragile, and yet very robust delivery.


HOLIDAY: (Singing) I'll be seeing you...

MARTIN: That was Wole Soyinka telling us what's playing in his ear. To hear our previous conversation with him, or any past interview, just go to our website, NPR.org, click on Programs and then TELL ME MORE.


HOLIDAY: (Singing) I'll always think of you that way. I'll find you in the morning sun and...

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.


HOLIDAY: (Singing) I'll be looking at the moon but I'll be seeing you.

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